Return to the office: Why listening is critical
Plan your return to the office – and design a workplace where every voice can be heard – with insights from your employees.
Pre-pandemic, 91% of our employees worked from an office. And overnight, 25 global offices became 3,000+ home offices – changing not only where, but how we worked. Our once office-centric culture quickly morphed into an all-remote landscape – and the future of when we’d return to the office remained uncertain.
Now, thanks to the input of our employees’ preferences worldwide, that future has come more into focus.
As Julia Anas, our Chief People Officer, explains in the Forbes article, Return To Office: Getting It Right, Not Being Right, we’re designing our return to the office with help from our employees.
Although we don’t expect to get it right immediately, we’re taking action to continually design and improve a workplace that will work for everyone. It’s about listening to our people, and taking action to course-correct as we go.
“The best organizations are committed to listening, understanding rather than launching a perfect plan on Day 1.”
- Julia Anas, Qualtrics Chief People Officer
As your organization considers its options for returning to the office, we wanted to share how we arrived at our decision, what our industry peers are considering for their plans, as well as tips for getting started asking your employees about their preferences for returning to work.
Employee preferences for a new world of work
As offices started to reopen across the globe, we needed guidance on what our next steps should be. Instead of leaving it purely up to the C-suite, we asked our more than 3,500 global employees about their preferences for returning to work. (And yes, we welcomed more than 1,000 new employees during the pandemic!)
Overwhelmingly, we heard that flexibility must be a key component of the next iteration of work. 77% of our employees told us that flexibility in where they work matters – and that they want the option to come to a Qualtrics office a few days a week to collaborate with colleagues.
We also looked to our women leaders – as we know the pandemic has deeply impacted their careers – to tell us about their experiences and preferences with remote and hybrid work:
- 80% of high-performing women shared they were more productive working remotely.
- 90% of high-performing female managers and senior leaders said they were more productive working from home than the office.
As to what’s driving the desire to return to the office some of the week, our employees miss the in-person experience of being around their colleagues. Nearly half (47%) said they miss the human interactions and hallway conversations.
Taking action on our employees’ feedback
As such, we’re aiming to create a work experience that combines the best of in-person collaboration with the best of virtual work: a hybrid model of three days in the office and the remaining days at home – or wherever an employee prefers to work and feels most productive.
We’re not directing employees to come in on any three specific days. Managers will set those guidelines for their teams, as well as decide what meetings will still be virtual and which will require in-person collaboration.
As an organization with a global footprint, we know the value of virtual meetings. Pre-pandemic, we leveraged video call technology to enable employees from around the world to participate in meetings. We plan to expand on that model, not only to meet employees’ needs, but to also continue fostering an environment of inclusion in decision making.
“Meeting virtually allows for more people to be a part of the conversation,” says Zig Serafin, CEO at Qualtrics.
To support our new hybrid work model, we also plan to redesign offices and build more types of collaboration and meeting spaces so employees can get the most value out of going to the office.
This process will be iterative, and will also allow for individual teams to figure out what works best for them.
Tips for getting started planning your return to the office
As you formulate your plans to return to the office or a hybrid work model, there are steps you can take to understand and meet your employees’ preferences.
Tip #1: Ask for feedback from your employees.
“Listening is leading,” says Zig. “We know employee engagement improves by about 90% when employees see meaningful action that's being taken on their feedback.”
“Listening is leading.”
- Zig Serafin, CEO at Qualtrics
Our employee listening tools can help you to better understand the needs of your workforce as you plan your return to the office. It’s crucial that you don’t just ask once, but regularly.
Tip #2: Plan for and decide on the who, what, when, where, and how.
As you develop your return to office plans, think through things like:
- Who is returning to the office (all employees, specific departments or roles, and so on)
- What employees will need to feel safe, productive, and supported
- Where employees will work when they’re back in the office
- When employees will return, e.g. in stages, on a rotating basis, etc.
- How to adapt workspaces to suit evolving employee needs
Tip #3: Communicate your return to office and/or hybrid work strategy.
Successful return to office plans rely on consistent and timely communication that meet employees where they are. Keeping your employees informed of your plans helps maintain their trust.
Be sure to also facilitate ongoing conversations – and address the concerns voiced by your employees – to help them feel supported during this time of transition. Create a dedicated Slack channel or host regular town halls to help your employees feel heard.
Remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to a post-pandemic work model. Understanding your employees’ feelings about return to offices is an essential part of any company's return-to-office strategy.
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